Did you hear about the time Jim Corbett missed a crocodile and shot a cot instead? Or when his khansama stunned a tiger by hitting the animal on the head with a frying pan? Ah but you wouldn’t, since you never had the good fortune of hiring the services of the man who cooked for the Corbett family for years. But one man did, and he answers to the name of Bond…Ruskin Bond.
One of India’s best-known writers of story books for children (he writes for us adults too), this Sahitya Akademi winner and Padma Shri has been writing for well over six decades now, sitting in his quaint bungalow in Mussouri. But while Delhi is Not Far and Rusty Runs Away are two of my favourites along with collections such as Crazy times with Uncle Ken, I knew I had a good thing on my hands when I chanced upon Tigers for Dinner — Tall Tales by Jim Corbett’s Khansama.
The book is a collection of eight delightful short stories based on the many summer vacations or Sunday afternoons discussion that little Ruskin had with his family cook, the redoubtable Mehmoud.
Mehmoud, as the writer tells us, was once in the services of the famous British hunter-turned-conservationist Jim Corbett and joined the Bonds after the Corbetts left India for good. The stories are spread over a period of several years with young Ruskin listening to Mehmoud recounting some of his greatest hunting feats and even greater escapes from the jaws of death. Like the time a cobra wrapped itself around him or when he put his cot on top of a crocodile by mistake. My favourite is Jungle Cook where he hits a tiger with a steaming hot frying pan to scare it away! Good Shot Mehmoud is another great story where our man tries his hand at shooting with hilarious consequences.
Each story is told in an easy, conversational manner, so typical of Bond’s stories for children. Sunaina Coelho, who has done the illustrations for the stories, does a superb job as well. And it’s not just the stories but even the food that will entice you to read the stories. Mehmoud admits that Corbett and most other adults seldom believed his tales. So when little Ruskin listens in rapt attention to each anecdote and hero-worships Mehmoud returns the favour by sneaking a few lamb chops or leg roasts for the child. “You were a hero Mehmoud. You deserved a reward,” little Ruskin tells Mehmoud at the end of most stories. Mehmoud’s stock reply goes: “my reward is here baba, preparing these lamb chops for you. Come on have another. Your parents won’t notice.”
As adults, we often complicate matters when reviewing a book by reading it too much through a reviewer’s eyes instead of treating it like a lay reader would.
To me the best judge of a book is the reader who is unaware that it’s been reviewed. So in this case, I read most of the stories out to my five-year-old son and then let him run through the book himself, at his own pace, where he spent more time looking at the sketches than the written words. When I told him I would have to take the book back to office, he let out a howl. “I want that book. It’s got the best animal stories you have ever told me,” he stated, stomping his feet. “If you are taking the book, ask the uncle (I am assuming he meant Ruskin Bond here) to send me another one.”
That to me is the greatest success of any book: when the ones the book is targeted at, love it. Clearly with Tigers for Dinner, Ruskin Bond has ensured that children will have another reason to act like little tigers, monkeys and every other animal at dinner time! And for parents who love going back to their childhood once in a while, this is a must-read too.
Ruskin Bond Rs 599
Published by Rupa (Red Turtle)